April 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
Palm Sunday is often overtaken by the drama of the Passion, and in some ways, appropriately so. However I think there is also something missing when we short change the triumph and joy of the Palms. Children engage easily in the celebration, the 9:15 procession with Palms and bells from the playground to the church is fun, a witness to the exuberance of hope. Adults are more cynical. We know what comes next, so why get excited? Why celebrate what is so quickly defeated? In our last Lenten Small Group looking at Shame Resilience we heard Brené Brown’s reminder: “if we want to experience joy, we must be open to sorrow; if we want to experience deep gratitude, we must open ourselves to disappointment.” When we protect ourselves from disappointment, anger and sorrow by limiting our moments of triumph and happiness, we build a wall that will also limit joy. As we approach Palm Sunday, let us join children’s voices and let the hosanna’s ring, open ourselves to the profound grief of the passion and the timeless joy of Easter.
– The Rev. Mary Foulke
April 4, 2014 § 1 Comment
To be honest, I signed up to write a blog post on a “hymn of the week” as a form of Lenten discipline. Although I love to sing, I don’t much like the Lenten hymns, and it took me quite a while to settle upon a hymn that would inspire me enough to write a coherent paragraph or two. One of the reasons I chose hymn 143, whose words, the hymnal tells us, date from the sixth century, is that this hymn is the only one that starts with the possibility that Lent’s forty days are “glory.” That it begins not with gloom, but glory to be celebrated with songs of praise, places this hymn in the realm in which Lent is indeed a season in which we prepare with joy to celebrate the Easter resurrection. This opening is a statement of the way I aspire to participate in Lent, a reminder not to lose sight of the fact that Lenten discipline and practices can make this a season of praise as well as penance.
In five short verses, the hymn propels us from Christ, back to the Hebrew Scriptures with Moses, Elijah, and Daniel, quickly returning us to the New Testament with John the Baptist as the herald of the Messiah. We are presented with our historical models to prepare us to ask the Lord to grant us the grace to be like them, and through prayer and fasting come to see the joy of our salvation. The middle verses suggest that fasting too is a means of praise and prayer. The hymn closes with reference to the eternal mystery of the Trinity, adored from age to age, uniting believers everywhere and across centuries.
For me, hymn 143 encapsulates what the season of Lent is all about: tradition, fasting, prayer, and contemplation of sacred mystery, all of which are preparation for the joy of the resurrection.
– Julia Alberino
March 28, 2014 Comments Off on Praying a Musical Landscape
OK, I confess. For me a good mass is all about the music. When I hear mass, I need good music. When I was spiritually starving, it was the study of music, especially the works of the great Renaissance masters that put me back on the track to Christianity. And then, many years later in my journey to find St. Luke’s whose tradition was musical and liturgical, was a gift for which I have never stopped giving thanks. Given the choice, I could do without a sermon and just have great music.
OK, now that I have alienated our (and I suspect many other) clergy let me unpack this a little. I would like to offer an opportunity for all of us in the great season of Lent to spend a little time meditating on the very gifts and rewards our musical tradition provides. The next time you are at mass, take a moment and meditate on how you feel about the sounds you hear around you. What do we do when we sing or listen to music? Are you drawn to the chanting of the prayers and gospel readings? Do we find ourselves talking during the Offertory? Do we take time to really pay attention to the texts we either sing or hear? Do we pray the Kyrie, Sanctus or Agnus Dei as the choir sings it? If you don’t, give yourself permission to give it a try, I think you will be surprised at what you experience. As a resistant church returner, If I could find my way in, anyone can. You don’t have to be a singer or a musician to participate in our musical tradition.
As with any good sermon, composers of sacred music are inspired by the word of God, the teachings of Christ and the encompassing presence of the Holy Ghost, even if they aren’t entirely aware of it themselves. Composers of motets and mass ordinaries draw from the same tool box of inspiration as a priest preparing a sermon. The only difference is that the composers express themselves initially through a tonal language that becomes the vehicle in which language is the passenger. Although composers communicate their message more subtly, their interpretations of the message of prayer, scripture, meditation, self-examination, and joyfulness (even during Lent), can shine through in often surprising and very satisfying ways. In their work can be found not only great musical ability, but a clear and, I believe, a two-way, connection to the divine. The great composers and poets are, in addition to their obvious musical abilities, a conduit for a greater message and purpose. That such beauty could be created without a connection to God and a deeply held system of belief seems impossible to me. The creation of Art in any form is one God’s greatest gifts, and that we celebrate it here is a blessing.
– John Bradley
March 21, 2014 § 1 Comment
Like most of us, I love old church music, and I also love new-to-me church music. Last week I had that rare, delightful experience of hearing an old and beloved hymn for the first time: How Did You Feel When You Come Out of the Wilderness
There are quite a few variations on the lyrics circulating now, and even more variations recorded back at least to the nineteenth century – including some that began, “Go into the wilderness.” Generally it goes something like,
Tell me how did you feel when you come out the wilderness, come out the wilderness, come out of the wilderness
How did you feel when you come out of the wilderness
Leaning on the Lord
This hymn poses a question which, on the face of it, sounds pretty easy to answer. I felt fantastic! My soul felt happy! I felt like shouting! I’ve personally felt a rush of joy making it out of the woods at dusk with dying flashlight batteries, or out of Indiana after visiting family in Kansas. Forget forty years in the desert.
But the striking thing about the form of a question is that it brings to mind the immediacy of experience, the immediacy of memory. It brings to mind the moment of existing in-between: not only in the joy of reaching what was promised and hoped for, but also shaped by the long road of struggle which sometimes seemed impossible to make it through. The experience of God, present amid people who are suffering and as one who suffers, but also leading us into liberation and rebirth, is most vivid in this in-between moment. Remembering urges us back to this deep connection with God.
The question, in evoking a response (Did you love everybody? Did you tell everybody? Did you feel like clapping?) , is also a call to action. One version of the hymn includes the lines,
My hands looked new when I came out of the wilderness
My feet did too when I came out of the wilderness
Something is lost, or more often everything seems lost, but the body in solidarity is stronger. Deeply enmeshed in God and embodying God’s action, it becomes something new, beautiful, and communicative.
– Aaron Miner
March 14, 2014 Comments Off on Lenten Hymn of the Week: Hymn 603, Hymnal 1982
This coming Sunday, we will be singing Hymn #603 in the Hymnal 1982, “When Christ was lifted from the earth.” The words were composed by Brian Wren, one of the most prolific hymn writers of the 20th century.
When Christ was lifted from the earth His arms stretched out above
Through every culture, every birth, to draw an answering love.
Still east and west His love extends and always, near or far,
He calls and claims us as His friends and loves us as we are.
Where generation, class, or race divides us to our shame,
He sees not labels but a face, a person and a name.
Thus freely loved, though fully known, may I in Christ be free
To welcome and accept His own as Christ accepted me.
The hymn text recalls a portion of the Gospel text for the day, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) The words ask us to lift up our gaze to Christ, who in his seemingly most desolate and humiliating moments, was lifted from the earth on the cross, but who draws not scorn from us but an inexplicable love, a bloom of compassion and gratitude for the depth of love that flows from his obedience unto death.
What a paradox! How can we gaze upon a man so wracked with pain and despair, so powerless and broken, and feel not repulsion but attraction? And how can his moment of desolation swing wide the gates of blessedness rather than clank them shut?
The hymn tune paired with this text reflects this blessed paradox. While the text reminds us of Christ’s awful lifting from the earth on Good Friday, the tune is in ¾ time: a slow waltz. While speaking of his cross, the tune and rhythm invite us to dance, to remember that this lifting, though terrible, is for us and for our salvation. The cross communicates to us definitively the lengths to which God is willing to go for the love of us, not as we may one day be, but just as we are. And knowing ourselves to be accepted and cherished, we find ourselves moved to reach forth our own hands in love, “to welcome and accept,” those who belong to Christ, which is everyone.
– The Rev. Gabriel Lamazares
March 7, 2014 § 1 Comment
Hymn 145, Hymnal 1982
Words: The Very Reverend Percival Dearmer (1867-1936)
Music: Besançon carol “Quittez, Pasteurs”, harmony by Martin Shaw (1875-1958)
It seems that many think of Lent as a time of denial, or penitence, of giving up foods and actions even the use of “Alleluia”. And indeed our liturgy reflects this time of self-reflection and fasting. Just yesterday we were called “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
It would not surprise you to note that many of our Lenten hymns reiterate this “reflection” and “repentance” theme. Phrases like “wilt thou forgive” and “ [Christ] himself has fasted and has prayed” and “teach us to mourn our sins” and “grant that we in penitence may offer you our praise” and various other hymns entreating us to “keep vigil with our heavenly Lord in his temptation and his fast” are found throughout this section of the hymnal. In fact there may be more cheer getting a paper cut or stubbing your toe than in a lot of hymns.
This indeed is only half of the true meaning of Lent. The other half is one wherein we turn our focus from inward reflection and preparation to one of outward action in the world helping those in need—putting action to our words rather than just reflection. That is not to say the reflection is not important—but it is likely that it is fulfilled in action. One hymn, and one hymn only in our traditional Lenten section pulls us out of the inward reflection and puts us into the world’s need for help and justice, and that is Hymn 141.
The text was written by The Very Reverend Percival Dearmer, an English priest born in 1867 in Kilburn, England. A member of the Alcuin Club (an Anglican organization dedicated to preserving church liturgy) he is best known for his work on the Parson’s Handbook which had the intent of offering Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices and worship that were compatible and complementary to the Book of Common Prayer. He implemented much of the liturgy in a London parish well known to us, St. Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, where he was serving as Vicar.
In 1906, working with greats like Ralph Vaughn Williams, he published The English Hymnal. In 1926, the two were joined by Martin Shaw (the person who arranged the tune we use for this hymn) to produce Songs of Praise and, in 1928, the Oxford Book of Carols.
After serving 15 years at St. Mary the Virgin, he became a volunteer and activist. He served with the Red Cross in World War I with his first wife (who died in service). He then worked with the YMCA in France and later worked with Mission of Help in India. He married a second time to Nancy Knowles.
He was avid socialist who served as Secretary of the Christian Social Union for eleven years. He incorporated a lot of his socialism in his writing and teaching in what he called a “Litany of Labor” which was incorporated in his handbook for communicants called The Sanctuary. He was appointed canon of Westminster Abbey in 1931 and used his position to run a soup kitchen for the unemployed. In 1936 he died and was buried in the Great Cloister at Westminster Abbey.
Looking at Dearmer’s background, one can see his call to action and social justice reflected in this hymn. The text is based on Isaiah 58:5-12 (text below), and was set to a French Christmas carol called “Quittez, pasteurs”. I would be remiss if I didn’t say, that’s probably why it is also one of the few “cheery” hymns we have for Lent.
The text, and indeed the passage from which it is pulled call us from the fast and ashes into actions of social justice: to break the yokes of oppression, to feed the hungry and house the homeless, to clothe the naked and to reconcile with family. In so many words, Isaiah writes that if we fast and do not do these actions, our fast is dead and pointless. Indeed verses 1-5 talk about people oppressing their workers and quarreling while they fast, missing the point of God’s call to us to make the world a better place. It is plain: do this and then healing will come; vindication will come; you will call to God and God will answer; but only by removing the yoke–the burden from among us—the oppression around us in the world.
For me this hymn is a call to action. It is a call to not be silent—to stand up and make a difference and help fight oppression. And we are all acquainted with the oppression around us. We see it in racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and all other isms, in politics and the church. It is rampant. As I write this, I am reminded of the laws passed in Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia that oppress LGBT people—oppress and endanger their very lives. As essayist James Addison said, “No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority.”
As Mother Stacy often says, we do not need to look far to see those at risk and oppressed by the world – our outreach programs, especially the youth in “the Church” are examples of oppression within families, friends, and communities that are presented to us at our doorsteps on Hudson St.
I do think, if Dearmer were to visit St. Luke’s today, he would likely find himself at home, not just with our liturgy, but also with our outreach. Yet he would still push us to continue to break those bonds of oppression, and to bring about a new day where God’s glory adorns us with love as the prize. “Arise! Arise and make a paradise!”
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am”. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
– Chap Day
December 19, 2012 Comments Off on O Come, O Come Emmanuel, A French Processionale, and John Mason Neale
On the 4th Sunday of Advent we sing one of the most beloved hymns of the Advent season, “O come, O come Emmanuel”. For me personally the text of this hymn is a summation of the observance and spirit of preparation and anticipation that is Advent, and the requisite final hymn for any annual observance of the season. It was even sung in my protestant parish when I was young, though mysteriously on Advent I. Even though I have rejected nearly all of the theology of that denomination, they did have good taste in music. Most, if not all of us, are familiar with the hymn text and can hum the familiar tune, but the origins of both the text and melody provide in interesting glimpse into our collective liturgical past. As we prepare for the Solemn Feast of the Nativity, let’s take a moment and reflect on the nearly 800 years of history that passed, while each year the texts were sung with quiet contemplation. Those familiar lines and tune which, like so many aspects of our familiar hymns, rituals, liturgies and other components of Anglican worship, meet where the centuries-old forms of worship in the pre-Reformation church intersect with the reformed Catholicism of the Oxford Movement with its interest in England’s Medieval liturgical and musical heritage, and our own 21-century expression of traditional worship.
Each verse of the Latin processional chant Veni, veni Emmanuel is a metric paraphrase of what are known as the “O” Antiphons, for the simple reason that they begin: O radix Jesse, O sapientia etc. The symbolism of each of the antiphons is beautifully explained by Sean Scheller in his contribution to the Advent blog, using the images found on the front of our gorgeous Advent cope made some years ago by the venerable Graham French. In the Catholic West the “O” Antiphons frame the Magnificat sung or recited at Vespers in the Roman Catholic or Evensong in the Anglican traditions during the octave, or eight days, prior to the Nativity. Each one is one of the names which are given to the Messiah, and also reference the prophecies of Isaiah. To make it even more interesting, the first letter of each after the “O” creates a reverse acrostic so that beginning with the last antiphon and working backward to the beginning – even more symbolism – it spells in Latin: Ero Cras: Tomorrow I come. Oddly, considering their widespread usage, the texts were not set chorally in a complete set until the 17th –century by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In modern times the texts have received more attention by composers, Bob Chilcott, Arvo Pärt and Peter Hallock are among the contemporary composers who have set them.
The exact origin of the O Antiphon texts remains a mystery, but we do know of a few threads. The Roman Philosopher Boethius alludes to them as early as the 6th century, and they were in use in Roman liturgies within the next two centuries. The Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf (c.800) based four sections of his poem entitled Christ on the antiphons O Rex gentium, O Clavis David, O Oriens and O Emmanuel suggesting more than a passing familiarly. The metical version which is the basis for our version of five of the seven antiphons was in use in the 13th –century. They are less literal, abandoning the more gloomy aspects of the original texts replacing them with the more confident “Gaude, gaude Emmanuel” refrain as you can see in the text and translation below. Those of you who know the hymn tune by heart will be immediately struck by how easily the Latin words fit with the familiar melody.
An early version of the English hymn as we know it was included in The Hymnal Noted – Part II in 1852. The text was translated by the great John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a high-churchman whose invaluable work translating medieval hymn texts into English for modern usage is one of the largest single contributions to traditional hymnody in use in the church today. As a vocal advocate of the Oxford movement, Neale had to endure a good deal of opposition, including a fourteen years’ inhibition by his bishop. He translated the Eastern liturgies into English, and wrote a mystical and devotional commentary on the Psalms. He held to the belief that the truth was found in the mediaeval and orthodox theologies of the church and popular hymn composers such as Isaac Watts composed erroneous theological texts, and was an offence against good taste. Neale was little appreciated in his time, and received is Doctor of Divinity not in England but at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut in 1860. He is best known as a hymn writer and, especially, translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and mediaeval hymns translated from Latin and Greek. More than anyone else, he made English-speaking congregations aware of the centuries-old tradition of Latin, Greek, Russian, and Syrian hymns. The English Hymnal (1906) contains 63 translated hymns and six original hymns by Neale. His translations include a number of St. Luke’s favorites, all found in the Hymnal 1982 among them: All Glory, Laud, and Honor, Of the Father’s Heart Begotten, Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle, and To Thee Before the Close of Day.
The Veni, veni Emmanuel tune was in use by the 13th century, found alternately in a manuscript in Portugal (now missing) and in a book of French processional chants. Although it its exact date of composition is unclear, the close relationship of text to melody suggests that either the tune was composed to fit the meter of the text, or they were composed together. The French Processionale book has the familiar hymn tune on a left-hand folio, with a complementary discantus part on the opposite folio. A lovely version of the hymn from the Processionale is found in the New Oxford Book of Carols (Andrew Parrott and Hugh Keyte, editors) and on the Taverner Choir’s Carol Album easily found on iTunes or Spotify. Take a moment to listen to the original version of the hymn, pause and reflect on the fact that like us, many who have come before have felt a similar attachment and sense of anticipation, preparation and awe in what are the last few days of the Advent before the coming each year of our Lord Jesus.
Click the link to hear the Tavner Consort perform Veni, Veni Emmanuel: Veni, Veni Emmanuel – Taverner Consort
– John Bradley
December 12, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Hymns
The tune Merton, “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding” (#59) is my very favorite tune in our current hymnal, with Bach’s harmonization of Wachet auf ! “Sleepers Wake!” (#61) a close second. What is it exactly about the Advent hymns that many of us regular church goers find so uplifting? Is it simply the music? Or is it the texts that inspire us so? Charles Wesley’s “Lo he comes with clouds descending” is especially pithy, theologically. Or it is a particularly felicitous match of text and music? Each of these aspects adds to the uniqueness of Advent hymnody. And since we only sing most of these hymns during the four weeks of Advent there are all of the seasonal associations that heighten the emotional impact of these hymns.
But when we strip away these sentiments, what we actually have in early Advent are some uneasy texts about universal change. The Second Coming of Christ is good news but also devastating because it heralds the destruction and reformation of all earthly things. I try to remind myself, as I sing along to these early Advent tunes, that Christ in glory and triumph is not manageable or comfortable but the opposite. More like Hurricane Sandy than Anglican worship. More like global warming than Advent Lessons and Carols. So my resolution this Advent is to pay closer attention to the texts while I am singing them, and not to be so absorbed by the soaring melodies and descants of the hymnody that I lose the plot.
– The Rev. Caroline M. Stacey, Rector
December 5, 2012 § 3 Comments
“People, Look East” is one of my favorite Advent Hymns. Though it was not in the 1940 or 1982 Hymnals, it was brought in to use in the Episcopal Church through Wonder, Love and Praise. The words were written by London poet/writer Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965). Originally titled “Carol of Advent”, it appeared in the Oxford Book of Carols, 1928 as a “Modern text written for adapted to traditional tunes”. In this case, the tune was “Besançon”, a French melody from the Franche-Comté region of France. The traditional hymn sung in England at the time was a Christmas carol “Shepherds, Shake off Your Drowsy Sleep” or “Chantons, bargiés, Noué, Noué” Farjeon is best known for her text to the Irish tune “Bunessan”, “Morning Has Broken” as well as various children’s poems.
There are several things make this one of my favorite Advent Hymns–and why I’m sharing this one with you on the blog. First, It is one of the few Advent hymns that seems to bring in the “greening” of the home that is often done in Advent– specifically in “Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table”. For most of us, especially in the modern world where Christmas almost starts in October, we prepare our homes and trim the hearths over the next few weeks. We start the anticipation of the Nativity still waiting in the darkness and hope of the Advent Season. The poem then leaves the warmth of the home and journeys to the world also preparing, despite the dark and cold of the coming winter.
Growing up in Ohio, my mother would plant bulbs in the fall that would later bloom in the Spring–it was something that I enjoyed doing with her at the age 4. I can’t say I’ve gardened much since then, but I can relate in a nostalgic way to the idea of preparing for new birth and new life just as the world is shutting down for winter. This hymn reminds me also of our celebration of Christmas in the mid-winter, or near the winter solstice wherein we have the longest night. And though I know it is not the right time of the year for the actual birth of Christ, there is something in the romanticized near-pagan-infused coupling of the anticipation of the coming Christ that ties it all together for me.
Lastly, on a much smaller note, I’m drawn to this hymn because of the music itself. I’ve had trouble finding out the age of the tune other than several references to “Ancient French Tune” which is hardly helpful. What I do know is that it is a tune from the region of France from which part of my family comes–a town only a few miles north of Besançon called Chenebier. I wonder if my family in that little village knew the original carol and sung it.
Advent is a time of preparing–for the coming of Christ as a child and in the return with “clouds descending”. There are many hymns of foreboding and warning as well as those heralding Christ through John the Baptist; there are a few that refer to the ten virgins in parable and allegory–but few touch on the home preparation, the world preparing for the chosen time, and the anticipation of the angels announcing the arrival of Love, the Guest.
1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.
3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.
4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.
So I have been hunting a good YouTube video relating to this. The best I could find was a Ukrainian group called Зозуленька. But seriously, how often do you get to see a bunch of Ukrainian youth in traditional clothing singing a French carol in English in the middle of a Wheat field with an Organ?
– Chap Day